October 17: Time-Traveling through Ancient Bhaktapur

Last sight out my window before going to bed was a bonfire in the street, around which several kids were playing some kind of gambling game. They were shouting and exchanging money, and my instinct told me that what they were doing was probably shady. 
At 5 am I awoke to the stench of burning plastic, and when I looked out my window I saw a huge pile of trash in flames. Already at this hour there was quite a stir of activity in the street. I saw the produce vendors unpacking their goods and I wondered why they even bothered putting it away. It seems like everyone does business here 24/7. I guess that’s the way to maximize sales.
I thought it’d be fun to experience this beautiful old village before it awoke and so I set off on foot in the pre-dawn darkness. Instantly I was quite moved by what I saw. In front of many homes and all around these streets there were little tea-candles aglow, many of them surrounded by freshly-painted iconography that suggested it was a Hindu thing. 
A few steps further and I came across a young man wearing flip-flops and an Abercrombie Fitch t-shirt. He was up to his knees in excrement and was using his hands to clean the intestines of a giant beast that lay slain on the street, a river of blood flowing downhill. Steam is rising from the animal’s corpse and another man with a huge butcher’s knife is cutting off chunks of meat and placing them on a roadside table for purchase. Nearby, a little boy is peeing in a gutter.
The sun was just beginning to rise but the goings-on around these streets seemed to be the same whether it was morning, noon, or night. Where four roads meet, I come across a Hindu shrine and several elders, women, men, and children are removing their shoes, touching a statue in dutiful reverence, lighting candles, scattering flowerpetals, and reciting prayers. I watched this situation for a while and was trying to figure out this ritual, but no patterns emerged. I mean, on one level it seemed like a very devout holy ritual, but then within earshot distance from the shrine, a pack of school-girls are giggling and talking loudly.  I concluded that this is just their way of life, and unlike the Christian church, all aspects of life are holy. You don’t need to be silent to honor God here, you just do the rituals and live your life.
A little ways further down the road I come across a courtyard that appears today exactly as it did several hundred years ago. I hesitate to enter because it’s a holy place and I can see from the doorway that many practitioners are performing their rituals. But I hear the sound of drums and I’m totally intrigued. So I enter the courtyard and pause to digest the richness of this cultural experience. A group of elders are gathered inside a shrine– some are banging drums, others are crashing cymbals, and one man who appears to be a thousand years old is singing verses of holy text. A few women are filling buckets of water from a well, others are sweeping the area with handmade brooms.  Surrounding the courtyard there are candles and statues of Gods, around which a procession of people silently move about making holy gestures.
Everywhere I walk this morning, chickens are hobbling around and I wonder how their owners keep track of them. Above me there are millions of colorful flags zigzagging across these narrow cobblestone roads . I come around a corner, and for the first time since I’ve been in Nepal, my eyes behold a beautiful view of the mountains. I pause for a moment and enjoy the rising sun warm upon my face. I think I’m going to stay in Bhaktapur for a while. 

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